Top 10 takeaways from college football Week 11

After watching the events of Saturday unfold around the nation in college football Week 11, we’re dubbing 2016 the the Year of the Upset.

No. 2 Clemson lost. No. 3 Michigan lost. No. 4 Washington lost. No. 9 Auburn lost. It was a historic day.

It’s hard to know how the rankings will shake out after Clemson, Michigan and Washington all lost Saturday. What we do know for certain is we won’t soon forget what transpired.

Of course, there were some predictable results on the menu as well, such as Alabama annihilating Mississippi State at home and Ohio State blowing out Maryland on the road.

We’ll take a look at these outcomes and more as we highlight the biggest stories from college football Week 11.

1. Pitt socks it to Clemson in Death Valley

college football Week 11, James Conner

Clemson came into the game as the No. 2-ranked team in the nation. After getting taken down at home by the Pittsburgh Panthers, 43-42, the Tigers almost certainly won’t retain that spot.

Dabo Swinney’s team had played with fire a couple of times at home this year before finally getting burned Saturday in Death Valley. Close wins against Troy and NC State were arrows pointing to this potential outcome. And truthfully, the Tigers really are lucky to have just one loss on their record right now after a miracle win over the Wolfpack in overtime.

Pitt had Clemson’s number all game Saturday and should have actually won by more than just one point. Officiating blunders cost Pitt some points, but then again, the blade cut both ways in this one.

Deshaun Watson had his moments of brilliance in this one, as his 580 yards and three touchdowns passing clearly shows. But he was also extremely sloppy, turning the ball over three times on bad interceptions, two of which led directly to Pitt touchdowns.

Not surprisingly, the indomitable James Conner had a big game for the Panthers, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown while adding another 57 yards and a touchdown through the air. What is surprising is how well senior quarterback Nathan Peterson played. Putting on the performance of his career, he threw five touchdown passes to help the Panthers pull off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 season.

The unbelievable amount of yardage allowed by Clemson’s defense was startling. Certainly it is a red flag as it pertains to the Tigers’ standing among the other top teams in the nation.

The huge win qualifies Pitt for a bowl game, and we expect the Panthers to tack on another win or two before the season is over. On the other side, Clemson’s loss will certainly reverberate on a national level.

2. Michigan gets out muscled in Iowa

Capping off a stunning evening of upsets, Iowa socked it to No. 3 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium in what was the most shocking of the three huge upsets in Week 11. The Hawkeyes eked out a win by knocking in a chip-shot field goal with time expiring in the fourth quarter to win 14-13.

It was pandemonium on the field afterwards, with most of the pro-Iowa crowd storming onto the field to celebrate with their team.

Iowa held Michigan’s powerhouse rushing offense to just 98 yards on 35 carries (2.8 yards per carry) and bottled up Heisman candidate Jabrill Peppers when he got his chances. Wilton Speights was almost a non-factor, minus an interception. He finished with just 103 yards on 11-of-26 passing and failed to throw a touchdown for just the second time this year.

Michigan’s defense was predictably stout but did allow junior running back Akron Wadley rush for 115 yards on 23 carries.

Both teams left it all on the field, taking the opposition’s best shot in the heavyweight slugfest.

In the end, despite some rather extraordinary measures taken by the equipment crew to gussy up the locker room (more on that here), the team we figured would be undefeated heading into the Week 13 showdown against Ohio State will be on equal footing if both teams win next weekend.

This loss proves beyond a shadow of doubt that Alabama, which we’ll get to shortly, is by far the most complete team in the nation.

3. USC was just better than Washington

USC quarterback Sam Darnold made a freshman mistake early on this one, throwing a bad interception. It appeared it might be a continuance of what we’ve seen happening at Husky Stadium this year, with the home team doling out punishing losses to its opponents.

Thankfully for USC fans, Darnold’s mistake did not signal yet another Washington blowout at home. Instead, the Trojans knocked off No. 4 Washington, 26-13, shocking the Huskies and their fans as well as creating more headaches for the College Football Playoff Committee.

Darnold was red hot outside of a couple mistakes. He vastly outplayed Jake Browning, the Heisman candidate, finishing with 287 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

His second touchdown was a microcosm of what transpired between USC’s offense versus Washington’s defense battle all night long. The Huskies couldn’t get to him in the pocket, and they couldn’t defend the middle of the field.

Perhaps even more impressive was the play of USC’s underrated defense, which held Browning to just 259 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-36 passing.

The sophomore quarterback had thrown just three interception all year long but threw two to USC’s Adoree’ Jackson in this one, including the game-sealing turnover for the Trojans late in the fourth quarter.

Even more impressive was USC’s dominance in the trenches against Washington’s vaunted rushing attack. Heading into the game, the Huskies were averaging 231 yards per game on the ground. Against the Trojans, they managed just 17 yards on 27 carries.

For 60 minutes, USC proved it was simply the better football team. Doing what they did on the road against the Huskies, the Trojans proved their turnaround of late is no fluke. It’s safe to say now that Clay Helton’s seat is no longer remotely warm, let alone hot. His Trojans have now won six games in a row and are playing as well as we’ve seen in a very long time.

Back to Washington. The Huskies had owned the Pac 12 this year and appeared destined to finish undefeated. They will now slide outside the top four and will have a tough time getting back into it given how weak the conference is.

4. Jalen Hurts is biggest X-factor in hunt for national championship

college football Week 11, Jalen Hurts

Since before the 2016 season ever began, Alabama has occupied the throne as the undisputed king of college football. All the polls recognize the Crimson Tide as the most dominant team in the nation, and they continue to prove this point week in and week out.

Saturday’s dismantling of Mississippi State — the same team that shocked Texas A&M last weekend — was just one more example of how much better ‘Bama is than everyone else. The most interesting thing that happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend happened after the game was over (more on that here).

Alabama has taken on some extremely tough challenges throughout the season and always finds a way to win.

We can point to the defense as a huge reason the Crimson Tide cannot be thwarted. We can also point to the NFL-caliber running backs and offensive line the team possesses.

But most of all, the biggest reason Alabama remains undefeated and will likely finish the season with an unblemished record is the exceptional skill of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Hurts is the biggest reason the Crimson Tide walked away from Tiger Stadium last weekend with their 10-0 win. Opposing defenses just cannot account for his diverse skill set. He has the arm to make every throw, the gunslinger’s confidence to throw lasers into some traffic and has perhaps the best outside-the-pocket game in college football outside of Lamar Jackson.

His entire repertoire was on display against the Bulldogs. Passing for 347 yards with four touchdowns while adding another 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground, he became the first quarterback in school history to hit the 300-100 marks in the same game.

It’s worth mentioning that Hurts did throw an interception and lost a fumble. But his mistakes are always followed up with something positive. Nothing seems to get him down, even when he’s struggling. We saw that clearly last weekend when he overcame a rough outing to beat LSU in the fourth quarter.

This freshman phenom is the biggest reason the Crimson Tide are headed towards their second straight national championship.

5. Auburn folds in biggest game of the year

The No. 9-ranked Auburn Tigers absolutely had to keep winning to have a mathematical chance to somehow win the SEC West over Alabama.

Instead, they laid an egg in Athens Saturday evening, losing 13-7 to a struggling Georgia Bulldogs team that had lost four of their last five games.

The Tigers came into the contest on a six-game winning streak. During that streak, Gus Malzahn’s offense averaged 39 points per game, and that’s including an 18-point effort against LSU and a 23-point performance against Vanderbilt last weekend.

They were hot.

It was pretty telling that, when the first half was over against Georgia, Auburn had managed just 132 total yards. The score was 7-0 in Auburn’s favor at that point. Based on what we’ve seen from the Tigers of late, it seemed inevitable that they’d figure out a way to move the ball and put more points on the board.

Neither of those things happened.

Maurice Smith, Georgia BulldogsAuburn managed just 32 total yards in the second half. Sean White, who’s been darn good of late, was terrible. His pick-six to open the third quarter changed the tide of momentum in favor of the Bulldogs, who never let go of that bone once they got a taste. Interestingly, it was Maurice Smith — the guy Nick Saban didn’t want to let transfer to Georgia — who picked off White.

Now at 7-3 on the season and 5-2 in the conference, Auburn has no shot to overtake Alabama in the race to represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game later this year. The best the Tigers can hope for now is to potentially upset the Crimson Tide’s chances of heading to the College Football Playoff when they face off against them at the end of the regular season.

6. Penn State survives a scare against Indiana

One of the surprising success stories this year has been the emergence of No. 10 Penn State. The Nittany Lions went into Week 11 on a five-game winning streak that included their shocking victory over Ohio State a few weeks back.

On the road this weekend to face an underrated Indiana squad, they weren’t exactly sharp early with four first-half turnovers. Heading into halftime, the Hoosiers managed to tie things up at 14-14. Then they took a 10-point lead in the third quarter following yet another Penn State turnover.

Finally, after a few back-and-forth touchdowns between the two teams, Penn State’s offense woke up to its fullest potential and stomped Indiana’s defense to the tune of 24 fourth-quarter points.

As usual, running back Saquon Barkley had a lot to do with Penn State’s offensive success. He managed just 58 yards on 33 carries, but both his rushing touchdowns occurred when the Nittany Lions needed scores in the fourth quarter.

Saquon Barkley

After the game, head coach James Franklin lauded his team’s “gutsy” performance.

”What you can’t do when you’re struggling in the run game is abort it, especially with a young offensive line,” Franklin said, per the Associated Press. ”It was a gutsy, gutsy win on the road.”

It was a particularly ugly performance by Penn State’s offense on this day, but a win is a win. With six in a row to their credit, Franklin’s team is on track to post double-digit wins for the first time since 2009.

7. Baylor’s late-season woes only get worse after Seth Russell’s injury

It’s been a trying year for the Baylor Bears’ football program.

The university and its athletic department has been immersed in an investigation that is trying to get to the bottom of the rape allegations that have rocked the school. After last weekend’s loss to TCU, head coach Jim Grobe lamented the fact that his assistant coaches, left over from the Art Briles era, weren’t focused because of the investigation.

Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, we predicted the team’s two-game skid would be extended to three. We were proved right as the Sooners manhandled the Bears into submission, 45-24.

Seth RussellWorse still was the ill-fated play in the third quarter that ended the season of quarterback Seth Russell, who suffered a brutal dislocated ankle that had us all squeamish (more on that here). Russell missed a large portion of last season with a broken bone in his back, and now his senior season has been cut short in brutal fashion as well.

The Bears were once thought of as a potential Playoff contender. Now with three losses in a row, they’re not even in contention for the Big 12 Championship Game.

8. Ugly win for Louisville keeps the Cardinals in Playoff contention

Lamar Jackson

The Demon Deacons actually led Louisville by the score of 12-3 at halftime thanks to a stellar defensive effort and some inspired play by quarterback John Wolford. But Bobby Petrino’s staff made some key adjustments at halftime that sparked what ended up as a blowout win for No. 6 Louisville.

Louisville rattled off 41 straight points in the second half to win 44-12.

Wake Forest did an amazing job keeping Lamar Jackson in check during the first half Saturday night. The Heisman favorite came through with some big plays when it mattered, though, finishing with 298 yards and one touchdown.

Despite not sporting his normal touchdown barrage, he kept the chains moving, setting up running back Brandon Radcliff to have his best game of the season with 141 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

After being pushed around in the first half, the defense pushed back in a major way to stifle Wake Forest’s offense and came up with a touchdown on a pick-six by Ronald Walker.

It was total and complete domination by Louisville in the second half. The blowout win is exactly what the Cardinals needed the most to continue inching up the rankings and potentially be one off the final four teams in the Playoff.

9. Ohio State secures top-four spot after blowout win over Maryland

While Clemson, Washington and Michigan lost in Week 11, No. 5 Ohio State made quite the statement on the road against Maryland, winning 62-3.

The outcome of this one was never in doubt. The Buckeyes jumped out to an early 21-3 lead after one quarter and then poured on another 24 points before halftime.

J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett didn’t even make it to the fourth quarter after leading his final touchdown-scoring drive of the game in the third quarter. He finished with 300 total yards and four touchdowns. Backup Joe Burrow was equally as effective in reserve, throwing a touchdown to help extend the lead in the fourth quarter.

Demario McCall scored on the ground and Curtis Samuel had a hat trick with two rushing scores and a receiving touchdown.

Not surprisingly, Ohio State’s dominant defense shut down the Terps throughout the contest, allowing just 10 first downs and 176 total yards.

Given the way Urban Meyer’s team performed, we fully expect the Buckeyes to move into the top four next week when the College Football Playoff Committee releases its new rankings. In the end, however, it matters not. The only thing that truly matters is that they remain a one-loss team heading into their showdown against Michigan to close out the regular season.

10. Nebraska stops the bleeding to stay in hunt for Big Ten West crown

Wisconsin absolutely dominated on Saturday against Illinois early in the day, putting significant pressure on Nebraska to remain within a half game in the Big Ten West. The Cornhuskers responded with a valiant 24-17 win at home against Minnesota, which was also trying to remain in the mix with just two losses.

Tommy ArmstrongRemarkably, Tommy Armstrong was active Saturday, just one week after he suffered a scary concussion in a play that sent him to the hospital in an ambulance straight from the field of play. The senior quarterback had one of his best games of the 2016 season to lead Nebraska, finishing with 278 total yards and three touchdowns. He was very efficient passing the ball, completing just over 70 percent of his passes.

Nebraska’s defense was outstanding in this one as well, holding Minnesota to just 265 total yards. It also forced the only turnover of the game when Kieron Williams intercepted Mitch Leidner to seal the win in the fourth quarter.

The ‘Huskers needed this win in the worst possible way. Given how badly they were beaten by Ohio State last weekend, we didn’t know how they’d respond against a tough Golden Gophers team. While the Badgers are technically leading the division, Nebraska remains in position to claim it if its rival drops a game down the stretch.